How to Care for Deaf Rabbits

how to care for a deaf rabbit

Deafness in rabbits can be caused by various factors, including genetics, infections, injuries, and old age. It’s more common for lop rabbits to be deaf or hard of hearing due to the orientation of their ears, but this is something that can affect any rabbit. It can be challenging to communicate with a deaf rabbit, but with patience and understanding, you can bond with your rabbit, while creating a safe and suitable environment for them.

Effective communication is the most important when caring for a deaf rabbit. While rabbits cannot hear, they are highly sensitive to vibrations, body language, and scents (rabbits have a sense of smell that is similar to dogs). You can learn to use visual cues (such as flicking the lights on and off and creating your own bunny sign language), while also utilizing strongly-scented treats (like cilantro and basil) to help gain a closer relationship with your rabbit.

You also need to keep in mind that it is to provide a safe environment when caring for a deaf rabbit. Rabbits rely heavily on their sense of hearing to detect potential predators and threats, so it’s essential to ensure that your rabbit’s living space and play areas are secure and free of hazards.

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rabbit field of vision
Other than directly in front and behind them, rabbits have a 360 degree field of vision. However, lop rabbit vision is blocked more because their ears get in the way.

1. Be visible when approaching your rabbit

When interacting with deaf rabbits, you’ll want to approach them from within their line of sight to prevent startling them. Since many rabbits are prone to anxiety or defensive behaviors if surprised, maintaining visibility from a distance can help keep them calm. 

To do this, it’s best to approach from a side angle where your rabbit can easily see you, avoiding the blind spot directly in front and behind your rabbit. Lop rabbits, in particular, have limited vision. So make sure to approach them from the front.

Rabbits are also far-sighted, which is why it’s best if they can see you from a distance as you approach. If you wait until you’re too near, your rabbit might not know who you are because you’re blurry to them.

2. Blink the lights when you enter the room

A simple yet effective method to let your rabbit know when you’re entering a room, is to flicker the lights. This visual cue serves as a gentle notification of your presence, allowing your rabbit to look for you and not get startled.

At first, your rabbit might not understand what it means. However, as you consistently put this into practice, your rabbit will associate the flashing of lights with someone approaching. This will help them remain calm and not feel suddenly surprised. Their inability to hear can make them more sensitive to sudden changes in their environment, so this light signal is a considerate way to communicate your arrival.

come when called a short distance away
Stand a short distance away from your rabbit and extend your hand to let your rabbit know you have a treat. Eventually, they’ll learn this is a sign to come to you.

3. Use hand signals

Communicating with a deaf rabbit requires adaptation, particularly in how you signal your intentions. The good news is that rabbits are actually quite smart. They can learn hand signals and cues based on your body language.

For example, When you want to call your rabbit over, squat down and hold out your hand as if offering a treat (or really offer them a treat). Similarly, when offering affection, extend your hand slowly and deliberately towards your rabbit to signal your desire to pet them. If your rabbit puts their head down or nudges your hand, that means they’re happy to accept the petting.

It will take a little bit of practice to get your rabbit to understand the hand signals you choose. But, with enough repetition it will become a secret language between you and your rabbit.

4. Establish routines with your rabbit

A consistent daily routine helps foster a sense of security for your rabbit. It lets them know what to expect during their daily life, so they don’t get overly anxious. The best way to do this is to create a routine around meal times and socialization.

  • Feeding Times: Create a set schedule for your rabbit’s meals, creating a predictable pattern that can reduce stress and improve appetite. (something like pellets at 8am in the morning, and leafy greens at 6pm every day)
  • Socialization: Dedicate consistent times for interaction with your rabbit. Regular playtime or cuddles can positively influence their social well-being, as rabbits value companionship. By making it the same time every day, it will also allow your rabbit to more easily predict when you will be around so they won’t get startled so easily.

5. Watch your rabbit carefully if they have outdoor playtime

While I advocate for keeping rabbits as indoor pets, many rabbits will still enjoy supervised time playing outside. When allowing your deaf rabbit to enjoy the outdoors, vigilance is key. Unlike their hearing counterparts, deaf rabbits won’t detect predators approaching nor respond to your calls. To ensure their safety:

  • Create a Secured Play Area: Use fencing that’s both high and buried deep to prevent escapes or unwelcome intruders. If possible, try to make sure there is some sort of cover or roof for the play area to prevent predatory birds from approaching.
  • Stay in Close Proximity: Always remain within reach to intervene if a threat emerges or to guide them back indoors.
  • Utilize Visual Signals: Develop a system of visual cues to communicate with your rabbit when it’s time to return home.

Enjoying the sunshine and exercise is wonderful for your rabbit’s well-being, but outdoor playtime for a deaf rabbit requires your full attention to maintain safety.

rabbit on a cat tower
My rabbit loves to climb up and down her cat tower.

6. Make sure your rabbit has toys for mental stimulation

Stimulating your deaf rabbit’s other senses is great for their overall well-being. By engaging their senses of sight and smell, you can enhance their environment and provide mental enrichment. 

  • Try scattering herbs on the ground or in their hay for your rabbit to sniff out. I recommend using dried herb blends so you don’t have to worry about anything spoiling (Small Pet Select has some yummy herb blends for rabbits. Mine love the Vita-licious blend best)
  • You could also hide treats around as your rabbit explores to encourage their natural foraging behaviors. This activity not only keeps their mind active but also offers a form of physical exercise.
  • Wood and hay-based toys are also great for your rabbit’s dental and mental health. 
  • Short platform cat towers and environmental toys (like cat tunnels) are also great for getting rabbits to explore and giving them different heights and perspectives to see the world from different vantage points. This variety can further enrich their daily experiences and promote a sense of curiosity and exploration. 

7. Consider using floor vibrations to communicate with your rabbit

Deaf rabbits may not hear your voice, but some of them are pretty good at sensing vibrations on the ground. You can use this sensitivity to vibrations to let your rabbit know you’re coming near. This is generally more effective on hard floors (especially wood flooring), and is less effective on soft floors (like carpeted flooring).

Steps to communicate through vibrations:

  1. Stomp lightly on the floor to create a gentle vibration as you take steps toward your rabbit.
  2. Observe your rabbit’s reaction to see if they notice the vibrations.
  3. Repeat this action consistently to help your rabbit understand that the vibration is a signal for attention.

Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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